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What's he like? In time, in time…
May 17, 2012 4:24 PM   Subscribe

In 1985, Don't Stand Me Down, the third studio album by Dexy's Midnight Runners was released. In a rare interview, front man Kevin Rowland and violinist Helen O'Hara talk about the making of what is now considered Dexy's lost masterpiece. The record was not an immediate success.

The first problem was the music. The album's centerpiece, the 12 minute magnum opus This Is What She's Like, featured a full two minutes of banter between Rowland and guitarist Billy Adams before the music kicked in. Elsewhere, on Knowledge of Beauty Rowland sang candidly about his Irish heritage, without making his political affiliations clear, at a moment when Anglo-Irish relations were particularly tense. Less provocative, but also deeply personal was the rousing love song from Kevin to Helen, Listen to This, recorded just as they were breaking up.

Even more damaging was the band's appearance at the time. Publicity stills showed the band the band dressed in a style that certain critics described as the "double glazing salesman look". For a band well known for their distinctive clothing, this baffling development was seen as boring and conservative. But, like the music, it was ripe for reappraisal. Following the On the Waterfront look of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, and the Celtic soul look of Too-Rye-Ay, the styling was in fact a sophisticated take on the post-Mod "suedehead" persona popular in London in the late sixties when Rowland was a teenager. These looks in turn heavily referenced the Ivy League styles that had been appropriated by Hollywood's best dressed gentlemen in the years before.

It wasn't enough. The record bombed, and Rowland went into self-destructive decline, only to emerge a decade and a half later, wearing a dress, to almost universal ridicule, as has been discussed previously on the blue. Even though My Beauty has found an audience of sorts, Rowland clearly knows a thing or two about what it means to make people angry with what you're wearing.

So, what's he like then? The Italians have a word for it.

BONUS LINK: The newly reformed Dexys perform Free, from their forthcoming album, live on TV.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth (30 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fantastic post - thanks!
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on May 17, 2012


"we're sorry, content not available for your country" on the 3 song clips in the second paragraph. And my country is the USofA. AAARRRGGGHHH.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:39 PM on May 17, 2012


Before he released My Beauty, he released The Wanderer which is, if you don't mind me saying, a fucking brilliant album.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:39 PM on May 17, 2012


I agree, this is great! I believe Young Soul Rebels to be one of the best albums of all time. A few weeks ago I picked up Don't Stand Me Down at the LP shop, listened to the first 5 or so notes and chose to leave it there. I guess I'll return for it, I am sure no one else has picked it up, they have always been considered a bit of a joke band in the states.
posted by Duffington at 4:39 PM on May 17, 2012


YouTube to the rescue: "This Is What She's Like" (audio only)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:42 PM on May 17, 2012


"Listen to This" (live)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:43 PM on May 17, 2012


One of my favorite albums of all time. I've always been a sucker for commercial suicides, and this album is a sterling example. Also chock-full of moments that still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, all this time later: my national pride is a personal pride where I come from!

Worth adding to the mix:

Kevin Rowland's 13th time, a b-side later added to the "director's cut" version of the album

bonus link: Kevin doing Springsteen's Thunder Road, left off of My Beauty (which I sincerely love with no trace of irony whatsoever), because they couldn't get approval on the lyric changes.
posted by the bricabrac man at 5:11 PM on May 17, 2012


Dexys Midnight Runners' discography is proof that apostrophes are bad luck.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2012


A few hous ago, Kevin was a guest on Gideon Coe's BBC 6music radio show.
posted by ericthegardener at 5:42 PM on May 17, 2012


I'm embarrassed. I never knew Dexys was a thing beyond Come On Eileen, and on top of that had no clue they were a Brit group. Favorited to check out what I've missed.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:43 PM on May 17, 2012




"This Is What She's Like" is one of my favorite songs ever. I especially love the Beach Boys-esque part near the end of the song. The whole album is great, but it takes some getting used to, compared to their first two (fantastic) albums. I'm glad somebody did a post on it.
posted by Dismantled King at 5:58 PM on May 17, 2012


I'm embarrassed. I never knew Dexys was a thing beyond Come On Eileen, and on top of that had no clue they were a Brit group. Favorited to check out what I've missed.

Here's the thing. They never had to be anything beyond Come On Eileen. It is the best of pop, it is the ALLOVERALL be all end all aLLALLALL of dance tunes, with Shout a distant second. If you can't shake a tail feather to Come On Eileen (or Shout or Blister in the Sun or The Chicken Dance) you are a lost soul.

(Their other stuff is good, too.)
posted by cog_nate at 6:03 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Don't Stand Me Down" is a work of startling and unmitigated genius. I can say without reservation that it's easily one of the five best albums to emerge from the burst of creativity that was the 1980s, and that's no small thing. It's a long stream of consciousness, filled with heart-rending revelations mumbled into the microphone between choruses and painful honesty and the most witty equipoise between soul and self-mockery ever achieved. The fact that it's autobiographical is clear even from the name of the first song, but the way he intends to bare his soul comes at a pivotal moment in that song, when Mr Rowland steps up to the microphone and says
Well, I thought a little joke might be a good idea just to sort of, I dunno, kick off the proceedings as it were, you know... what do you think? Yeah? Yeah, you ever hear the one about the, you know, the middle-class idiots who sort of spend all their time analysing their own emotions and writing bullshit poetry? You know, that we're supposed to read. I mean as if we're fucking interested! You like that one? Um... No, no it's a true story that one... Honestly it's true, I didn't make it up...
So it's clear from the beginning, though he says so by way of a joke, that Rowland is well aware of how silly it might seem, his project of chronicling the inner life of his soul. But he does it anyway - dragging this song out interminably, using the break on that song to mutter some things about what he thinks is really important, etc.

I could go on, but honestly just please listen to this record a few times. I love their previous album, "Too Rye Aye," with a great love - but "Don't Stand Me Down" is better. The more you listen, the more you hear these hidden gems, these hilarious and tragic moments. This record is probably the most spiritually satisfying piece of music I know of.
posted by koeselitz at 6:20 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


cog_nate: "Here's the thing. They never had to be anything beyond Come On Eileen. It is the best of pop, it is the ALLOVERALL be all end all aLLALLALL of dance tunes, with Shout a distant second. If you can't shake a tail feather to Come On Eileen (or Shout or Blister in the Sun or The Chicken Dance) you are a lost soul. (Their other stuff is good, too.)"

It is a fantastic song - and you should check out the lyrics, which form one of Kevin Rowland's most poignant statements of intent. He was this guy, see, who started a freaking soul band even though he was an Irish guy living in England, which is crazy in itself. And "Come On Eileen" is this statement that it didn't matter - that if there is a music you love, whether it's old or new, whether it's from your hometown or across the sea, you can be part of it, and you can make something of your own. Ignore anybody who says otherwise - we're far too young and clever for that.

I love that song.

Still, if you like that, you should listen to "Let's Make This Precious," which remains my favorite Dexy's song and maybe my favorite song by anybody.
posted by koeselitz at 6:30 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You forgot to mention they (rechristened Dexy's) have a new record out next month - hence all the publicity and interviews. One track, Nowhere is Home is available on the band's Soundcloud page. It's good, of course.

The new look is not so good, though - basically the band are dressed like all those 50-something men you see at rockabilly clubs, only the jeans are two sizes too big and they've added co-respondent shoes and flat caps.
posted by jack_mo at 6:38 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loved Dexys when I was a teenager, loved 'em, loved 'em, loved 'em. But I was so pissed off at them when Don't Stand Me Down was first released, because the first song I heard was "One of Those Things," which lifts the piano line from "Werewolves of London," but Kevin Rowland took the sole songwriting credit. WNEW-FM in New York played it a lot, and every time I heard "It all sounded the same!" to the tune of "Werewolves of London," I would just lose my shit and yell at the radio about how Kevin Rowland wasn't even TRYING anymore. (Apparently I was a little intense about this stuff when I was 17.) I never listened to the rest of the album. Didn't even want to KNOW about it, grar grar grar.

I never knew, until tonight, that Kevin Rowland owned up in the Don't Stand Me Down Directors Cut liner notes (in 1997) that yes, he *did* lift the piano line from "Werewolves," or that he subsequently gave Warren Zevon, LeRoy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel co-writing credit. Between that and the comments here, I think it might finally be time for me to listen to it.
posted by bakerina at 6:42 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course, I have to retract the previous comment. I shook it to Hey Ya -- lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor -- at my good friends' Bacchanalia-But-Nice party, and that was neck and neck in dance-like-you-stole-your-shoes-ness with all the times I'd flogged it to Come On Eileen.

Dance, folks. It's fun and the people who judge you aren't worthy of your consideration.
posted by cog_nate at 6:44 PM on May 17, 2012


Also worth pointing out that the publicity for the new record has been very well managed - the focus has been firmly on Don't Stand Me Down in all the TV, radio and press I've seen about the new disc, in a sort of pre-emptive strike against folk saying, 'Hang on, this isn't like Come on Eileen'. Rowland & Co. clearly want to position the comeback as a successor to their flop/cult hit/critically reappraised/near-universally acknowledged best record.
posted by jack_mo at 6:56 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dexys Midnight Runners' discography is proof that apostrophes are bad luck.

And "Come On Eileen" could really use a comma.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:35 PM on May 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


How I do admire Mr Rowland; if they'd do nothing more than Searching... I'd still be saying that. Thanks for the post.
posted by Abiezer at 7:42 PM on May 17, 2012


The cover of Thunder Road?

Brings to mind Bill Murray's lounge singer, heeeey.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:44 PM on May 17, 2012


This album is, indeed, fantastic. Underrated doesn't even begin to acknowledge its greatness.
posted by snofoam at 9:40 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently the recent gigs have been fairly storming.

Still gotta be the first album, for me.
posted by Decani at 1:36 AM on May 18, 2012


If you can't shake a tail feather to Come On Eileen (or Shout or Blister in the Sun or The Chicken Dance) you are a lost soul.

Seconded; I've grumbled in here about having broke my foot on New Year's Eve, but didn't reveal the full story - which is that I broke it by being part of a kick line dancing to "Come On Eileen."

And I don't regret it a single bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


their flop/cult hit/critically reappraised/near-universally acknowledged best record.

Don't Stand Me Down has been critically reappraised, yes, but I think the consensus view (and mine) remains that Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (recently re-released for the 30th anniversary with tons of great live tracks from the period) is the best Dexys record.
posted by escabeche at 8:51 AM on May 18, 2012


I found a 12 inch promo at a thrift store a year or two back. Here's the front cover and the back.
posted by cropshy at 3:36 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The man who waxed so eloquently lyrical about Don't Stand Me Down was correct. It is a masterpiece. Any album that mentions a caff that I used to have breakfast in and explains that people who live in Moseley are tossers has to be worth consideration.

There are too many links for me to click up there, so apologies if already mentioned, but BBC radio 4 had a great documentary on the album the other day, will still be on iplayer for a few days.

Dexys invited folk to photograph and video their recent shows ….if you google Dexys, Shepherds Bush, you will find some brilliant stuff, including a superb updating of Come on Eileen.
posted by Fat Buddha at 5:56 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Come on, I'm dean / And my hands are so clean / At this moment / I am stapling!"
posted by Pronoiac at 12:04 AM on May 19, 2012


Late, late bonus link: Another new track, Incapable of Love, live on TV.

A note on the new look: Kevin's been having suits made by Soho couturier Mark Powell for a while now. Glamorous, sharp and entirely age-appropriate. I love, love, love that shirt.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 2:20 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


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